Discrimination in Our Systems

We have all faced some form of discrimination in our lives. From when we first started school and the chubby kids felt dejected during games period, to when we’re older and working and fighting against a glass ceiling in a corporate structure.

We are given protection against discrimination on the basis of age, sex, colour, caste, creed and race. There is a reason why this protection is offered by our Constitution – because it exists. And it continues to exist, despite this protection.

I worked with an NGO that does work in the area of HIV/AIDS. One of the biggest hurdles faced by people living with HIV is discrimination. This leads to stigma, which in turn leads to silence, which leads to a further spread of the virus. Again, this is met by discrimination. I met many people living with HIV who shared their stories – most of which were horrific. They have been rejected treatment in hospitals, been thrown out of their homes. One was even locked into a shed, and given food from the crack under the door.

Section 377 which made homosexuality an offence has been repealed recently. This was given a lot of attention by the media, and received a hugely positive response. But even today, a lot of people view homosexuality as taboo. And this view is not restricted only to the older generations, and the “conservative”. There are people my age, “liberal” in most respects, who believe that something is “wrong” with homosexuals – that their sexual preference is “not normal”. Society creates norms, and when these norms are not complied with, the non complier suffers discrimination.

You turn on the television to watch the news, and there are stories of racial discrimination in Australia, stories of dowry deaths in India and girls being sold by their own parents to pimps in Thailand. During the commercial break, you are subject to watch Fair and Lovely advertisements. Why do you need to be fair to get a job or get married? Although some may ridicule these advertisements, there are some, the girl who works in my house for instance, who believe in them.

The news comes back on, and there is a debate on about reservation. Reservation began to uplift those who were earlier discriminated against. It is now used by affluent minority castes, taking away the seats of many poor forward caste students who are worthy of those seats. This week it was in the news that the Supreme Court has held that the IIT’s cannot throw out SC/ST students for “poor performance”. There are people I know who have done nothing but study to get into any one of the IIT’s from the 9th standard. Not having gotten in on the first attempt, they have taken a year off, some even two, to try again. Many people never get in, and then there are those people who get in through reservation, and now cannot even be thrown out if they fail to perform. My college, not unlike many other colleges, has an NRI quota. Many people, who have spent all their lives in India, but merely have an uncle or aunt abroad, get in through this quota. So are the people who are not rich enough to buy seats, or “fortunate” enough to be an SC/ST/backward class, being discriminated?

A few years ago, I worked with the children at the Spastics Society of India, now called Vidyasagar, in Chennai. They were children suffering from celebral palsy and many of them were restricted to wheel chairs. Apart from this, they were exactly like us – had a favourite cricketer, had crushes on people in their class, had a favourite sport and book. But they were not allowed to study in mainstream schools. For two reasons, mainstream schools were not equipped with ramps and they believed that these children would not be able to cope. The second reason, however, was imagined, because the children I met were as bright as an average child of their age, if not brighter. On children’s day that year, we had a rally and put up street plays, seeking inclusion in mainstream schools. The demand was met, and some of those students were seen in mainstream schools the next year.

It is clear that discrimination is society created, making it destructible by society. As individuals who form this society, let us begin this process by doing away with myths, stereotypes and biases.

Gulika Reddy

[Image courtesy: http://www.psychologytoday.com/files/u41/stop_discrimination_0.jpg]